Sunday, March 23, 2014

Tracy Meisenbach: Smooth Selling or Making Waves?

The time has come to sell your horse.  It might be a backyard pleasure horse or it might be a World Champion.  Either of these horses needs the same basic marketing to get the best possible home and price.  There are several steps to making a smooth sale. Following them can mean the difference between an easy transaction and a big nightmare.

Evaluate your horse honestly.  What are his strong points and weak points?  Is he registered or grade?  Has he been genetically tested for defects that could affect his life or  performance? Does he have a discipline he excels at or is he just a pleasure horse? Does he have any bad stable manners or ring habits?

Anything you find wrong with him as an owner, a buyer will find twice as bad. Don’t advertise a horse has having "halter" potential unless he really does.  A halter professional will shoot him down in a second and your credibility will take a severe hit. Please don't use the word RARE in your ad. There is very little that is truly rare in the horse world and using that term immediately sends up red flags. If your horse is truly rare, why is he not being marketed at a higher level than craigslist and facebook? Black, cremello, blue eyes, Friesian, Gypsy Vanners, NONE of these are rare. In fact the market is flooded with some very poor specimens right now. Using the word FOUNDATION in your ad, to provide merit, without a show record is also a red flag. Pedigree is a good selling point, as long as conformation and ability go with it. No horse is worth $10,000  based on pedigree or color. Be honest and objective and price
your horse accordingly.

If the horse will be too spirited for a beginner rider, say so up front and don’t let a novice talk you into letting them try the horse.  They could be injured on your property and you can be found liable.  Remember it’s easier to sell your horse on what he is then on what he might be. Set ground rules for a visit. No open toed shoes, loose dogs or loose children. Have your state’s limited liability signs posted at the gates to the barn and pasture. Do everything you can to protect yourself, before you get sued.

Prepare your horse for sale.  This doesn’t mean spraying Thunder down and putting an ad in the local paper.  If you take short cuts you’re going to get a lot of time-wasting lookers who will never see past the dirt and shaggy mane.  Make an effort to actually sell your horse.  You wouldn’t show up at an important job interview in a T-shirt and Bermuda shorts would you?  Every person who looks at your horse is interviewing it as a potential investment.  This means you need to make your horse appear at his best.  Clip him enough to be tidy, wash him if he’s dirty. Feed him up or slim him down as he needs it.  He needs to look well cared for and loved.  Work on his ground manners and barn manners.  Get him to the best he can be and a buyer will notice.

Advertising is a key point.  If you are going to do photo advertising then take good shots.  Don’t stand your horse in a hole or take a cute picture of him rolling.  This makes your horse look unbalanced and makes you look unprofessional.  Stand him on level ground and point your camera right at the midpoint of his barrel while you are in a crouch position.  This prevents his head from looking huge or his hips and withers from looking uneven.  Don’t take pictures with a fence as a background. This "cuts" your horse in half and can make him look uneven against the straight edge of the fence. If you are going to shoot a video than take one of the horse un-tacked first and then being saddled and ridden.  Again go for level ground and bland backgrounds.  You want the horse to stand out, not the fact you have a nice board fence. Do NOT use
photos of you standing in the saddle to market your horse. You look like an idiot
and completely unprofessional. It’s a redneck trick and just points out the level of seller you are.

Setting up your ad can require a lot more thought than you might have considered. If your horse is a young stallion and you advertise him as a stallion prospect, you are in essence saying he will have all the necessary equipment to reproduce another horse when bred to a mare. This includes a working penis, two testicles and a sperm count in the upper digits. What? Two testicles? But your horse is only six months old, how the heck can you assure that?  The answer is; you can’t! Advertising a yearling or weanling as a future breeding prospect is foolish and leaves you open for a lawsuit.  You have no idea what the colt is going to look like as an adult.  If you stipulate in print that your horse is a breeding prospect then you are giving the buyer reasonable expectation that the colt will meet breed and show ring requirements.  Should the colt fail to reach these standards you might find yourself sued for misrepresenting your horse.  The same goes for selling a filly.  You had better have some concrete proof she can reproduce or her broodmare potential is in question.  The best bet is to sell a foal based on their bloodlines, conformation and disposition.  Give the buyer something they can see and touch and don’t speculate on the future.

Once the horse is ready and your ad outlined, then place it where you’ll get the most exposure.  Put it in the local paper, horse trader magazines, and national breed magazines or on the Internet at one of the popular horse sites.  If you have a certain time of day it is easier to reach you then list that in your ad.

Examine the prices of comparable horses and stay in that range.  Also know the area you’re in and understand its market base.  A $1000.00 horse in Montana might bring $4000.00 in Los Angeles, but unless you want to haul your horse to California to sell it then plan on getting a $1000.00 if you advertise locally.  If you advertise on the Internet be prepared for sending videos and photos.  I typically charge a ten-dollar deposit on videos, that way I know the person is interested and that I’m going to get the video back if they aren’t.  For photos there is no charge, but I do ask that they be returned if the person doesn’t like the horse.

Keep notes on all calls.  This is important because it tells you who is looking and why.  It also gives you a list of people who have horse interests in your area.  If you set up an appointment always get a return phone number.  That way you can call them if they are late or a no-show and find out what happened.  Sometimes you want to reschedule and sometimes it’s better to simply tell them not to come.  If your horse is registered it’s a good idea to have a copy of your horse’s papers and his vet records by the phone so you can answer questions about his health and background.  If you’re selling a mare or stallion have their produce record or show records.

Showing the horse.  A buyer finally arrives to look at the horse.  What are the best ways to show him off? First don’t saddle and warm up the horse prior to someone getting there.  It looks fishy and makes them think you’re hiding something. (If you are hiding something then you need to stop and be up front about it; because with the laws now protecting a consumer you could be sued for fraud or misrepresentation) When the person arrives introduce them to the horse and let them watch you groom and tack it up. Make sure your equipment fits and is in good safe condition.  Take the horse to an enclosed area and warm it up.  Show the horse at all of its gaits going both directions. If the horse is being sold as a specific discipline horse then work it with that in mind.

Next allow the buyer to try out the horse. (I recommend requiring them to wear a helmet. I keep an old one on hand just for this purpose.) Observe how they are with the horse.  Are they nervous or jerky?  Does the horse seem uncomfortable?  Are they confident and caring? Does the horse respond smoothly?  After the ride un-tack the horse and demonstrate any other training you feel would show the horse off.  I like to load and unload the horse from a trailer and then hose him off to show docility.  Too many people have bought the "perfect" riding horse only to find out it’s a battle to get it in the trailer or give it a bath.

If the buyer is interested in your horse now is a good time to go over the horse’s paperwork.  Make sure the Coggins, ownership transfers and health records are all in order and easy to read. Having current photos of foals produced is a good selling point for a mare or stallion.  Allow the buyer time to think about their purchase.  I've heard the “ Someone is coming back at 5:00 with a check” line so many times I usually just walk away and go look at another horse.  If someone really is coming back at 5:00 make it plain, but don’t try to force a decision.  Allow the buyer to make another appointment that fits into your schedule.  Often they want to bring a trainer or friend to see the horse.
This isn’t unusual and is no reflection on their trusting the seller.  They simply want verification of their opinion of the horse.

Two visits, possibly three, are the limit I set.  The week-long try outs while bringing every member of the family out to see it tells me the person isn't committed to buying a horse and he needs some other horse besides mine to be the guinea pig. While the objective of selling the horse seems to be to get the money in your hand that’s not really the case.  By offering this animal for sale you are advertising your business, integrity and professional ethics to the world.  One bad sale put out by word of mouth can ruin a horseman.

If the buyer has determined they want the horse then let them set up a vet check. The buyer should also make a deposit on the horse.  State laws concerning deposits vary, but the general rule is that if the vet turns up something wrong with the horse you refund the deposit. If you already know something is wrong with the horse, such as cribbing and tell the buyer the horse has this problem and the buyer still pays a deposit then the vet determining cribbing as a flaw is not grounds for return of the deposit.  But as I said, check your state laws and also have a bill of sale handy for just this purpose.  If the horse passes the vet check then make payment and transportation arrangements.  Typically if the horse is within 25 miles I’ll deliver it free, anything over that and I charge by the mile. If they are picking the horse up then be sure you have a set time to meet them and call that morning and confirm it’s still on.  Last minute details can add up and make for a long wait.

Selling a horse is often a heart wrenching experience, so make sure you have the best possible home for your horse and get the best possible price.  Look at all the necessary components of making a good sale and then try to stick to them.  This will make your sale go as smoothly as possible and provide a safe secure home for your horse.

I've been asked several times to allow a horse to go on try out.  I don’t
recommend it for a few reasons.  The horse can be injured while at a new place and can come in contact with communicable diseases, which will end up back at your barn if the horse returns.  If you do allow a try out then have a contract drawn up stipulating all requirements and have the full purchase price of the horse held by an escrow company. If the horse is injured, he’s considered sold and the escrow company will release the money to you, whereas a disgruntled buyer can stop payment on a check or return the horse. It is also a good idea to require insurance be carried on the horse while he is on try-out. Make sure you are the beneficiary since you will be sustaining the loss if the horse has to be put down.
Craigslist has spawned a level of scammers that didn't exist when I started in this business. Don't EVER accept a cashier's check or money order for your horse. They are too easy to forge. No one is going to pay top price, add a little extra and buy your horse sight unseen, while having a friend pick it up. It just doesn’t happen, so do not buy into that line of scamming. If someone wants to pay with anything other than cash, require a personal check and make a copy
of their photo ID. That way you can take them to court for theft by check. Paypal is really not safe because the person can dispute the sale after they take your animal and sometimes get a refund. Do NOT let your horse leave the property until payment is secured and verified. If you do then don't be surprised if you get scammed.

Good luck and smooth selling

Tracy Meisenbach
Copyright 1997

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